Saturday 7 July 2018

Commenting on Australia's draft commitments to the Open Government National Action Plan

Australia has a draft of commitments for our Open Government National Action Plan, and have asked for comment. The plan has some wonderful goals, but I wish the authors had a more practical understanding of the workings of digital economies and open source communities. The commitments could be made so much more implementable and impactful. I've provided the following specific comments, along with a reference to my previous submission which is more comprehensive.

Improve the sharing, use and reuse of public sector data

Government's draft commitment: 
… consult across government, through the new National Data Advisory Council, with the Open Government Forum and with the public including businesses, civil society groups and research and non‑profit sectors. The National Data Advisory Council will be a multi-disciplinary expert panel drawn from public sector and civic society organisations.

My comment:
Sharing public data provides noble goals, but as written, government can claim this commitment complete merely by opening access to datasets without addressing the more challenging task of making sure the data is usable.
For this policy to be implemented effectively, it should tie back to measures of data use. This requires an understanding of the characteristics of data management, and should mention measures such as: quality, fitness for purpose, ability to integrate with other data sources, standards based data structures, relevance, usability, timeliness, sustainability of maintenance.

Enhance public engagement skills in the public service

Government's draft commitment:
  • Develop and implement an Open Dialogue Roadmap
  • The Establishment of an APS Engagement Hub
My comment:
In order to be impactful, this commitment needs to extend beyond dialogue and facilitating the sharing of ideas. It needs to extend to the more important issue of collaboration during acquisition, implementation and deployment.
We need to recognise that governments around the world are all solving very similar problems, and the most efficient way to address these problems is to work on them collaboratively. However, cross-agency and cross-jurisdiction collaborative implementation is the exception rather than the rule. This can usually be traced to the difficulty of explaining and applying collaborative techniques within government frameworks.
I recommend this commitment be extended to cover the providing of tools to measure and implement cross-agency collaboration. This commitment will require a lot of work, however many of the techniques needed can be derived from Open Source community processes.

Enhance state and territory participation in the Open Government Partnership

Government's draft commitment:
  • Establishing a framework and mechanisms to facilitate communication between state and territory governments and Australian Government officials responsible for Australia’s Open Government commitments to support collaboration and learning on open government matters, and highlight the opportunity for formal subnational cooperation and membership in the Open Government Partnership, and 
  • To demonstrate the benefits of enhanced collaboration on open government matters: engaging with state and territory Information Commissioners to seek agreement to conduct surveys to measure citizens’ awareness of the right to access government information, and their experiences and outcomes in exercising that right.
My comment:
Enhancing state and territory participation is a good start, but the scope of this commitment should be extended up to international collaboration, and down to local government and further. Note that there will always be more people with great ideas who are outside your organisation than can ever mustered from within. So with every policy and procedure you write, and every application you build, do it collaboratively. 
Use, Extend, or Create, in that order:
  • Use existing material if it exists;
  • Otherwise extend and give back;
  • As a last resort, create your own, share, and endeavour to attract collaborators.